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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Who Says Record Companies Can't Be Run Like Charities?

September 06, 1998|Steve Hochman

An album featuring top Hollywood movie stars showing off their musical talents--not a "Golden Throats" joke, but a legitimate work--including a re-teaming of "Sling Blade" stars Billy Bob Thornton and Dwight Yoakam on a new country-rock tune?

The concept is one in a series of upcoming albums that Mark Fine hopes will elevate his unique Hammer & Lace record label to a new level of attention in the pop world.

While the company has released more than a dozen charity albums over the last four years, the new "Hollywood Goes Wild" collection is likely to be the most high-profile yet for a company that is as unique as the artist lineup for the new album.

At Hammer & Lace, Fine's goal isn't how much money his records will make for the conglomerate coffers (in this case, PolyGram), but how much he'll be able to give away.

Hammer & Lace is the only major record company branch that is completely devoted to charity projects.

"Hollywood Goes Wild," which is due next year and also includes an example of Jeff Goldblum's bebop piano prowess as one of its early contributions, comes after a series of albums dealing with several medical-related causes--none of which have sold enough to make the weekly SoundScan pop charts.

Another big-name project on the way is "Lost Voices," featuring artists from Brian Setzer to X to Faith Hill doing songs written by or associated with Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, whose deaths were all associated with drugs or alcohol. Proceeds from the album, due next month, will go to the Phoenix House centers for teens with substance abuse problems.

And the new "Man to Woman," the latest of several breast cancer projects, includes a bonus version of Bryan Adams' hit "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" with supermodel Linda Evangelista as a guest on accordion. The album features previously released tracks by Sting, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart.

"The balance between creativity, commerce and community, which we're trying to find at Hammer & Lace, is a wonderful place to be," says Fine, 40, a South African native who first experienced the intersection of music and social causes in the '70s while charged with promoting Bob Marley in that country under apartheid.

"With these albums, a critical mass is being achieved. It's a body of work that people are beginning to notice. . . . Our business has been trivialized in many minds and sometimes deserves it," he says. "But after a while, for some artists the platinum albums and everything ring hollow, and I was glad to provide a vehicle for something meaningful."

Amy Langer, executive director of the National Assn. of Breast Cancer Organizations, the primary beneficiary of several Hammer & Lace albums, says that with such logistics-heavy events as Live Aid and USA for Africa seemingly a thing of the past, the label has become an invaluable channel for the music world to effect social good.

"What Mark and PolyGram have done is brought music and the cause to people's homes and cars and Walkmans," she says. "That's a more intimate way to deliver a message, which is suitable for our message, something that needs to be done woman by woman."

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WAS (NOT WAS) IS: The "siblings" Don and David Was--whose oddball studio experiments as Was (Not Was) led to the 1989 Top 10 hit "Walk the Dinosaur" before Don went on to a Grammy-winning production career and David found success overseeing such projects as soundtracks for both "The X-Files" series and film--have reunited after a sometimes acrimonious estrangement that lasted most of the '90s.

They're currently setting up shop in Hollywood to record a new album, which David Was says will tap back into the weirdness that fueled their pre-"Dinosaur" work, music that featured a regular cast of support musicians and singers, plus guests ranging from Ozzy Osbourne to Mel Torme.

The two were friends from their Detroit-area childhoods, but they drifted apart as Don's career as a producer took off via work with Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop, among others. David, meanwhile, also focused on production, working with Rickie Lee Jones and others and forming an alliance with "The X-Files" creator Chris Carter.

David, though, says they recently buried their hatchets and realized how well they complement each other artistically.

"The whole reason Don and I have been synergistic since we were 12 is I need him to straighten me out, and he needs me to crooked him out," says David, whose real last name is Weiss. "I started playing him tracks I was recording for a solo album, which were generally strange. I could basically doodle forever, but he can find ways to finish things."

Meanwhile, Don (real last name Fagenson) is also producing a new album by singer Amanda Marshall and playing proud papa to son Tony, drummer in the hot young band Eve 6. David has produced an upcoming live album for former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and is doing the soundtrack for an upcoming British comedy film, "Je M'Apelle Crawford."

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